Chasing that Line

First Published, 11th November, 2014. This post is dedicated to Christopher Michael.

The great thing about Facebook is we see things that other people can do and become inspired. The totally crap thing about Facebook is we see things that other people can do and we compare ourselves.

Handstands. How straight is your line right now? I ask this because it suddenly seems so important to be able to hold the “perfect straight line”. It seems that to be considered good at handstands, or to be training them correctly, you must get a straight line. Everyone wants that illusive line. What is this straight line we are aiming for? Well if you take a pencil and draw a line with a ruler then that’s a straight line.

The idea here is that every part of the body is neatly stacked up, one joint on top of another, in order to create a stable position with minimal energy expenditure. Toes and feet on top of hips on top of shoulders on top of wrists. So obviously that makes sense, and that is what we want to aim for.

But this is something I started obsessing over when I realised my handstand WAS NOT STRAIGHT. I talked about this in a previous blog post. I had started planching at my shoulders resulting in an arch in my back. It was fairly obvious and so I set about correcting this with the help of some great coaches. However, it became something that I focused on so much I just couldn’t be happy with any of my handstands. I would watch videos back and pick each one apart. It didn’t matter if I had improved my line because it still wasn’t where I wanted it to be, therefore it sucked.

When I achieved my first 60 second handstand just over a year ago, did I look at it and start critiquing my line? No I did not because I had just achieved my first 60 second handstand! Yes it could have been straighter but I wasn’t bent like a banana. I was looking at all the hard work I had put into achieving this. The strength I had developed, the endurance I had built up. The balance to stay upside down for that length of time. When you start handstands from zero as an adult with no real background in gymnastics or movement, reaching that goal feels pretty amazing. And I remember how much I celebrated it, rather than sitting there finding reasons why it wasn’t actually any good. I do also remember how desperate I was to get the video onto YouTube so I didn’t lose the evidence that I had held it.

And yet now, nothing feels good enough. I reach my toes to my head, but on the days I don’t get my feet to my head it doesn’t count for anything. I held front splits, which is harder upside down since you can’t push against anything to force your legs apart. But my left leg was lifted a little high so it’s not a full split. I got a hollow back stag, but my shoulders weren’t open as much as they should be so the curve isn’t smooth enough. I can hold a nice tuck, but my back should be arched more enabling my knees to come closer to my chest.

I can hold a straight handstand. But here is a list of everything wrong with it.

I am incredibly lucky to have met, trained with and learnt from some amazing hand balancers. But my current hand balancing coach is pretty special. We talked about the issues I have with the quality of my handstand and he said that you have to work with what you have. You find the method, the process, the position, the line that works for you and your body. Because everybody’s body is different. When working OAHS drills with him, if I think push up, push my damn shoulder up, I try and force it so much that I waste energy, I stop breathing and I fatigue instantly. If I let my shoulder drop a little bit and actually relax, my body becomes lighter, I move more easily and I need less and less spotting. I may not have “perfect” shoulders but I have control.

I had to give similar advice to someone, who said that because he didn’t have great range of motion in his shoulders he was constantly fighting to hold his handstand. And he couldn’t get into a great position. I said what my coach had said to me. Sometimes with things like handstands we have to train them however we are able to perform them. If you don’t have the overhead range of motion that you feel you need, just start working on finding the balance with the range of motion you do have. If you are constantly fighting for the position you will fatigue quickly and struggle to make progress. If you relax a little bit more into a comfortable position then you can work on improving balance. Continue using the floor and the wall to work on your line, strength and endurance. Keep working on opening your shoulders with stretching and mobility. All these elements equal handstand.

A wonderful person I am coaching held an eight second free standing handstand, he just stuck it from a kick up, for the first time ever. I was so excited, because it was amazing to see his progress! And he said, yeah but my shoulders are still really closed and bla bla bla… But who cares because he got a solid balance and that’s amazing! But see we are now so critical of everything.

I am not advocating poor form when it comes to handstands. There is a big difference between doing something with poor form that will result in an injury and doing something with “not as good as it could be” form because you’ve just started learning it. Most people when beginning learning handstands will not have great form. And even physiology plays a part in this. I mean if you squat heavy things and you have a very nice butt, it’s unlikely you will ever be able to completely flatten that in a handstand. And if you aren’t training for Cirque, does that kind of thing really matter?

So why not look at it like this? Whatever you do is perfect because it’s what you are able to do on the day. Your handstand is perfect. Because you are upside down on your hands. It’s beautiful whatever shape you are in. There shouldn’t be standards when you train it for fun, just encouragement for everyone doing the thing they love. We all want to work hard to get better and better at what we do. But if we can’t appreciate each moment, each movement, each time we hold our balance a second longer than before, then what is the point? I looked back over my progress from the start to where I am now. And every handstand, every tiny improvement is awesome. I did that, and I kept going even when “it wasn’t good enough”. This is how we learn and how we grow.

For everyone out there who enjoys being upside down stop chasing that line. Or at least slow down and don’t rush it. Focus on yourself, be inspired by what others can do but don’t compare yourself. There is no such thing as a perfect line, but every handstand you do is beautiful because it’s a handstand.

And sometimes, breaking your line creates magic…

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Photographer: Simon Carter

Hair and Make up: Sarah Pumfrey

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